Friday, September 15, 2017

The New Mystery





The other day I had a lengthy wait in the post office line. Most of my fellow detainees were gazing at their cell phones.

Lines used to be a great place to people-watch. I could tell a lot by the expression on the face of a person forced to be idle and moderately civilized as we edged up in the queue. The varying postures are still revealing. Posture always has been.

There was little to be learned watching the new techies. Writers who guessed about the details of someone's life before cell phones was doing just that. Guessing. That's all. But it was fun.

One of the best books on characterization was Maren Elwood's Characters Make Your Story. It was published in 1941. She has an excellent chapter "Look at His Face." Faces in repose reveal a great deal. Is a person pleasant? Self-confident? Harried? If so, how does one present this on a page. If they give a critical glance at a crying child are they worried? Judging the mother for not having better control? Their faces told it all.

Not any more! In fact, I was tempted to sneak around and gaze over the shoulders of these unmoving statues. Were they playing solitaire? Reading email? Have they downloaded one of the Type M'ers novels? Most of the faces were expressionless.

Our job just got harder.

3 comments:

Sybil Johnson said...

Interesting. I rarely look at my phone when I'm waiting in line. Not my generation, I guess. I was walking down to the beach one day and saw a man walking a dog. Instead of enjoying the beautiful day and the surroundings, he was staring at his phone. I wanted to shake him and tell him to appreciate his surroundings.

I'll check out that book you mentioned.

Mario Acevedo said...

Great observation. You must be a writer.

Irene Bennett Brown said...

I noticed the same thing at the LA airport last weekend. Dozens upon dozens of passengers seated on the benches, and only one or two not gazing at a phone. It was weird, almost other-worldly and scary. Where did the humans go?